Beta Alanine: Fighting Muscle Fatigue
How does it work?
Minimizing the negative effects of expending energy in the muscles is not a new concept. Almost everyone is familiar with the term “lactic acid build-up.”
It is this increase in acidity in the muscles that is the primary contributor to fatigue both during and after exercise and training. However, the focus is now shifting from the concept of minimizing lactic acid build-up to a more accurate model that instead focuses on how acid build-up in the muscles can best be buffered.
And the presence of beta-alanine is quickly emerging as a primary factor in promoting the ability of muscle to buffer the acid-producing hydrogen (H+) ions that are generated during rapid and intense energy production and use.*
HOW DOES BUFFERING WORK?
It is the process of converting glucose to energy in the muscle that produces lactic acid. This lactic acid then breaks down into lactate and hydrogen. It is this increase in hydrogen ions in the muscle that increases muscular acidity, which is the primary contributor to fatigue and soreness.
In muscle, the peptide carnosine serves as a “hydrogen scavenger.” Acting as a “hydrogen scavenger” carnosine will mitigate the adverse impact of muscular acidity, which, in turn, will increase muscle capacity and time-to-failure.*1,2
Carnosine is composed of two amino acids: beta-alanine and histidine, with beta-alanine being the rate-limiting factor in carnosine’s production.2
Supplementation of six grams of sustained-release beta-alanine has been shown to increase the amount of carnosine in muscle by as much as 64% after four weeks2 and as much as 80% after 10 weeks.*3
THE CHALLENGE OF INCREASING CARNOSINE
Unfortunately, simply taking carnosine is not effective in humans, because carnosine is metabolized before it can ever reach the muscle.
To counteract this, carnosine’s building blocks – histidine and beta-alanine – must be increased in the muscle to sufficiently increase the level of carnosine.4 Carnosine levels in muscles vary from person to person, with higher levels typically occurring in males and in individuals who have more fast-twitch muscles.
Carnosine levels tend to decline with age, but they also can be low from diets that are consistently low in carnosine-containing foods. Carnosine is very abundant in protein-rich foods, such as milks, eggs, and cheese, with the best food sources of carnosine being beef, poultry, and pork products.
This makes beta-alanine supplementation a very reasonable consideration for aging populations and vegetarian/vegan populations. Beta-alanine supplementation has been shown to increase carnosine levels in both high- and low-baseline level populations.*7,8
In addition to its emerging role in buffering muscular acidity, carnosine has also been shown to have significant antioxidant properties.*9,10 Carnosine can also play a positive role in chelating heavy metals, which in turn, reduces the production of harmful free radicals.*10
BETA ALANINE: SCIENCE SAYS
- Beta-alanine supplementation improved exercise capacity in activities lasting between one and four minutes.*11
- Anaerobic – Beta-alanine showed improvements in the time-to-perceived exhaustion in male and female cyclists3,12,13 and runners14,15 during exercise longer than 1 minute but less than 4.5 minutes.*
- Aerobic – For exercises lasting longer than four minutes, beta-alanine improved time-to-perceived exhaustion compared to placebo.*16,17
- Studies in 2,000 meter rowing time trials showed a 2-4 second improvement in trial time with beta-alanine supplementation.*18,19
- Measuring power output at the neuromuscular fatigue threshold indicates the work capacity of the muscles. Beta-alanine supplementation resulted in a 14-17% increase in physical working capacity in males and females versus placebo.*16,20,21
- Carnosine acts as an antioxidant by limiting the accumulation of free radicals from fat oxidation22,23 and metal chelation.*24 Further research is dictated to examine the antioxidant properties of beta-alanine.
- Three-month supplementation of beta-alanine increased muscle carnosine in an aging population (ages 55-92 years), resulting in a 29% increase in physical work capacity.*21,25
To maximize the impact of beta-alanine supplementation, an extended loading period is recommended. A 2-week loading period resulted in a 20-30% increase in muscle carnosine.*
A 4-6 week loading period led to a 40-60% increase in muscle carnosine.*6,26 Supplementing with beta-alanine when eating during the loading phase has been shown to enhance muscle carnosine concentrations.*27
The current literature supports a split daily dose of up to six grams of sustained-release beta-alanine, because larger single doses (greater than 800 mg of non-sustained-release beta-alanine) can cause a physical phenomenon known as paraesthesia, or tingling.2
In addition, large doses of beta-alanine that are not time-released lead to higher excretion rates, which negatively impacts muscle-loading capacity.
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- Dunnett M, Harris R. Influence of oral beta-alanine and L-histidine supplementation on the carnosine content of the gluteus medius. Equine Vet J Suppl1999;30:499-504.
- Harris R, Tallon M, Dunnett M, et al. The absorption of orally supplied beta-alanine and its effect on muscle carnosine synthesis in human vastus lateralis.Amino Acids 2006;30(3):279-289.
- Hill C, Harris R, Kim H, et al. Influence of beta-alanine supplementation on skeletal muscle carnosine concentrations and high intensity cycling capacity.Amino Acids 2007;32(2):225-233.
- Sale C, Saunders B, Harris R. Effect of beta-alanine supplementation on muscle carnosine concentrations and exercise performance.Amino Acids2010;39(2):321-333.
- Harris R, Jones G, Hill C, et al. The carnosine content ofV Lateralis in vegetarians and omnivores. FASEB J 2007;21(6):A944.
- Everaert I, Mooyaart A, Baguet A, et al. Vegetarianism, female gender and increasing age, but not CNDP1 genotype, are associated with reduced muscle carnosine levels in humans.Amino Acids 2011;40(4):1221-1229.
- Stellingwerff T, Anwander H, Egger A, et al. Effect of two β-alanine dosing protocols on muscle carnosine synthesis and washout. Amino Acids 2012;42(6):2461-2472.
- Derave W, Ozdemir M, Harris R, et al. beta-Alanine supplementation augments muscle carnosine content and attenuates fatigue during repeated isokinetic contraction bouts in trained sprinters. J Appl Physiol(1985) 2007;103(5):1736-1743.
- Klebanov G, Teselkin Y, Babenkova I, et al. Effect of carnosine and its components on free-radical reactions. Membr Cell Biol 1998;12(1):89-99.
- Kohen R, et al. Antioxidant activity of carnosine, homocarnosine, and anserine present in muscle and brain. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A1988;85(9):3175-3179.
- Hobson R, Saunders B, Ball G, et al. Effects of β-alanine supplementation on exercise performance: a meta-analysis. Amino Acids 2012;43(1):25-37.
- Sale C, Saunders B, Hudson S, et al. Effect of β-alanine plus sodium bicarbonate on high-intensity cycling capacity. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2011;43(10):1972-1978.
- Danaher J, Gerber T, Wellard R, Stathis C. The effect of β-alanine and NaHCO3 co-ingestion on buffering capacity and exercise performance with high-intensity exercise in healthy males. Eur J Appl Physiol 2014;114(8):1715-1724.
- Jagim A, Wright G, Brice A, Doberstein S. Effects of beta-alanine supplementation on sprint endurance. J Strength Cond Res2013;27(2):526-532.
- Smith-Ryan A, Fukuda D, Stout J, Kendall K. High-velocity intermittent running: effects of beta-alanine supplementation. J Strength Cond Res2012;26(10):2798-2805.
- Stout J, Cramer J, Zoeller R, et al. Effects of beta-alanine supplementation on the onset of neuromuscular fatigue and ventilatory threshold in women. Amino Acids2007;32(3);381-386.
- Smith A, Walter A, Graef J, et al. Effects of beta-alanine supplementation and high-intensity interval training on endurance performance and body composition in men; a double-blind trial. J Intl Soc Sports Nutr 2009;6:5.
- Baguet A, Bourgois J, Vanhee L, et al. Important role of muscle carnosine in rowing performance. J Appl Physiol (1985) 2010;109(4):1096-1101.
- Ducker K, Dawson B, Wallman K. Effect of beta-alanine supplementation on 2,000-m rowing-ergometer performance.Intl J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab2013;23(4):336-343.
- Stout J, Cramer J, Mielke M, et al. Effects of twenty-eight days of beta-alanine and creatine monohydrate supplementation on the physical working capacity at neuromuscular fatigue threshold. J Strength Cond Res 2006;20(4):928-931.
- McCormack W, Stout J, Emerson N, et al. Oral nutritional supplement fortified with beta-alanine improves physical working capacity in older adults: a randomized, placebo-controlled study.Exp Gerontol 2013;48(9):933-939.
- Decker E, Crum A, Calvert J. Differences in the antioxidant mechanism of carnosine in the presence of copper and iron. J Agric Food Chem 1992;40(5):756-759.
- Decker E, Ivanov V, Zhu B, Frei B. Inhibition of low-density lipoprotein oxidation by carnosine and histidine. J Agric Food Chem 2001;49(1):511-516.
- Gariballa S, Sinclair A. Carnosine: physiological properties and therapeutic potential. Age and Ageing2000;29(3):207-210.
- Stout J, Graves B, Smith A, et al. The effect of beta-alanine supplementation on neuromuscular fatigue in elderly (55-92 years): a double-blind randomized study. J Intl Soc Sports Nutr2008;5:21.
- Baguet A, Reyngoudt H, Pottier A, et al. Carnosine loading and washout in human skeletal muscles.J Appl Physiol 2009;106(3):837-842.
- Stegen S, Blancquaert L, Everaert I, et al. Meal and beta-alanine co-ingestion enhances muscle carnosine loading. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2013;45(8):1478-1485.